This past July, I traveled through Sicily after a few years since my last trip there, and spent time in the southwestern part of the Island. I was completely charmed by the beauty of the seascape, the colors, the hospitality and the food and wines of this land.
The apotheosis of the trip was Marsala, which rises on Capo Boeo, in the heart of the Mediterranean.
From its Phoenician beginning Marsala is influenced by all its colonizers: Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Swedish, French and Spaniards.
The name was given by the first Arab pirates that landed here in the VIII century: Marsa-Allah – Port of God- eventually Marsa-Ali from where the modern name came from.One side is protected by Erice and and the other embraced by Segesta and Selinunte which looks over the Egadi Islands that are only twenty minutes away by boat, while the North-African Tunisian coast is only 80 miles away.
Marsala is rich with artistic beauties and unique and unrepeatable contents. The ancient city conserves the testimony of its past scattered in a special geographical place where nature expresses itself in multiple characters.
The artistic patrimony is ample: churches, caves, ships, necropolis, the Ipogei (old burial grounds), thermal baths, streets, statues, amphorae and temples.
From the Laguna to the historical downtown, there is an immense ancient area, in good part recovered and a great part still buried, that cohabits with the modern urban complex. From 1773, the history of Marsala marches hand in hand with that of the homonymous wine that the Englishman John Woodhouse and than Ingham e Whitaker, discovered and enhanced. This is the most ancient of the Italian DOC’s.
Ten years later the legendary Florio family would be the first to commercialize Marsala. Today there are more than fifty producers ranging in all sizes and style of winemaking.
On the 11th of May in 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi, known as the hero of two continents, landed in Marsala with his 1,000 men – “Sbarco dei Mille”- and began the unification of the first Italian nation.
The area boasts more than 8,000 hectares of vineyards and produces over a million of hectoliters of wine per year. The most famous is the wine that borrows its name from the city of Marsala.
Today Marsala is a city of wine, flowers, salt, strawberries and ceramics. Here the colors, flavors and scents of Sicily meet in a territory that comprises between the small cobblestone streets of the historical downtown to the charming hamlets of the countryside. The locals continue to cultivate the typical Mediterranean hospitality. The value of the Hospitality is in the DNA of the “Marsalesi” and it’s certainly on their tables as the local food is exquisite and blends savory and sweet flavors which is reminiscent of the it’s Arabic & Spaniard influences. One of the local staples is in fact couscous, which is served mostly with wonderfully flavored fish stews made with an array of seafood and shellfish in a rich spicy tomatoey sauce.
One of the dishes I love the most form this area is the “Pesto alla Trapanese” (from the city of Trapani) Trapanese pesto is quite different from the popular Genovese style. I have made it with my homegrown basil that this year grew plentiful and delicious and I want to share my own personal version. The most traditional pasta used for this dish are the “busari” from the Sicilian “busi” knitting needles – which were used to roll the pasta around them, creating thick noodles with a hollow center. I substitute Bucatini for the original “Busiate “ and it works perfectly. Some of the pesto will fill some of the cavity of the noodles and the ratio pasta sauce will be just right.
The presence of tomato, almond, garlic and cheese give this dish a complex, nutty, sweet, aromatic character and what better wine to accompany it than the local Grillo! Prepare this recipe and enjoy it with Acanteo Grillo, newest addition in the Eagle Eye Portfolio.
Pesto alla Trapanese – serves 4
5 large Roma tomatoes – blanched, skinned, seeded and roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic – I remove the heart form the bulb which helps in eliminating bad breath
About 20-22 large basil leaves, if the leaves are smaller increase the amount
2/3 cup of blanched skinned almonds
A dash of peperoncino – I use about 1/8 tsp. of hot smoked hot paprika.
Coarse sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. of Bucatini – select a good artisanal brand
1/3 cup of mixed Ricotta salata & Pecorino Romano grated.
Put a large pot filled with water on the fire and bring to boil, add the scored tomatoes and remove after a few seconds.
Place the tomatoes in a bowl with ice and some water till completely cooled and remover the peel. Cut the tomatoes lengthwise and remove all the seeds, coarsely chop the tomatoes and put on a colander above a bowl to remove excess liquids.
Heat up a non-stick skillet and while you are waiting for the skillet to get really hot, pulsate the almonds in the food processor until coarsely but evenly chopped.
Toast the almonds in the skillet at very low flame shaking the pan often to toast evenly this should take just a few minutes.
Place the almonds, about a teaspoon of sea salt, garlic and peperoncino in the food processor and pulsate a few times, add the basil and continue to pulsate, add the tomatoes all at once and pulsate some more and finally add the the oil through the feeding tube.
Taste for seasoning and adjust it to your desired taste. The texture should not be completely smooth, but still have some texture from the almonds.
At this point the pesto is ready and you can set it on top of an ice back to prevent oxidation, the colors will keep more vivid.
Boil a large pot of water and once boiled add salt, throw the past in the water, stir and cover till the water boils again, stir so that noodles are sot sticking to each other and let it cook for 10-12 minutes. Nothing wrong with tasting a noodle to check for wanted “al dente” effect. Overcook it and you will have ruined the dish.
Scoop a couple of ladles of the pesto in a large ceramic bowl and toss the pasta well, add some more pesto if you like it more evenly coated. Sprinkle 2/3 of the cheese and toss altogether. Plate the pasta and spoon some additional pesto on top and sprinkle with some more cheese. You can place a couple of basil leaves on top to decorate the plate and finally sprinkle the additional cheese on top.
Buon Appetito and let me reach for my glass of Acanteo Grillo to toast to your health and to Sicily!